SPRINGFIELD — How did Americans of the past feel about the Civil War? What did they think of Abraham Lincoln or of growing up in Illinois? One way to find out is by looking at the songs they sang — something the Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library and Museum is making possible through its digital services.
The presidential library has placed more than 740 song sheets, song books and pieces of sheet music on its www.ChroniclingIllinois.org website. The music is divided into three collections: Civil War Song Sheets, Lincoln Sheet Music and Illinois Sheet Music and Song Books.
Music in the Civil War collection, with titles like “Flash Every Sabre Bright” and “The Captain with his Whiskers,” ranges from satirical to patriotic to mournful. The topics include battles, fallen soldiers, celebrated generals and wartime romance.
The song sheets (small handbills, usually with illustrations) were a commercially successful and popular medium for expressions of patriotism, sorrow and dissent during the war.
Abraham Lincoln is celebrated and commemorated in the Lincoln Sheet Music Collection, which contains 194 pieces culled from the library’s vast archives of Lincoln material. The songs and instrumental compositions depict episodes from Lincoln’s life and the national mourning of his death.
They include Civil War-era titles such as “We are coming Father Abraham, Six Hundred Thousand More” and “Our National Union March,” as well as pieces written later, such as “The School Where Lincoln Went” and “I Love You Like Lincoln Loved the Old Red, White, and Blue.”
The third collection is devoted to music published in Illinois, much of it about life in the state. The Illinois Sheet Music and Song Book Collection includes tunes like “The Bell of Old Kaskaskia,” “The Ballad of Chicago” and “Springfield.”
“Sheet music is an often forgotten but extremely effective window into America’s cultural past,” said Civil War music historian Christian McWhirter, an employee of the Lincoln Presidential Library’s Paper of Abraham Lincoln project.
“Great events like the Civil War and the Depression all produced songs that reflected how Americans felt — or wanted to feel — about the issues of their day,” said McWhirter, author of “Battle Hymns: The Power and Popularity of Music in the Civil War.”
Visitors to ChroniclingIllinois.org can click on “Collections” at the top of the page and then select one of the three music collections from the longer list of all materials available online.
The website is the product of the Lincoln Presidential Library’s Center for Digital Initiatives. The center works with the curatorial departments at the presidential library to develop a digitization plan to serve the ALPLM’s diverse users. The center also seeks to integrate digital content into the visitor experience in the museum.
The Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library and Museum, a division of the Illinois Historic Preservation Agency, is dedicated to telling the story of America’s 16th president through old-fashioned scholarship and modern technology.
The library holds an unparalleled collection of Lincoln documents, photographs, artifacts and art, as well as some 12 million items pertaining to all aspects of Illinois history. For more information, visit www.presidentlincoln.illinois.gov.